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All righty, then — A Half Dozen of Luna City is put to bed, both print and ebook versions! The sixth Luna City chronicle goes on sale on the 30th of this month, although the Kindle version will soon be available for pre-order! – from the back cover blurb:

Welcome to Luna City, Karnes County, Texas … Population 2,456, give or take … Business at the Luna Café & Coffee is looking up for fugitive former celebrity chef Richard Astor-Hall. The owners – elderly schoolteacher Miss Letty, and the irascible Doc Wyler have approved hiring another cook and expanding hours at the Café. Joe Vaughn, chief of the tiny Luna City Police Department, is coping with the demands of parenthood … and both he and local ace reporter Kate Heisel are deep into untangling the mystery of a very old skeleton unearthed in construction of a brand-new facility at Mills Farm, the upscale resort just down the road.

23. April 2018 · Comments Off on Markets and All · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

The Daughter Unit and I are looking ahead already, although it is still technically spring and so a bit early, one might assume, to start planning our marketing season. We have historically done a lot of business in the last quarter of the year, a matter in which we have a lot in common with fixed-location retailers. No, it is not too early; these sorts of things take lots of planning on the part of organizers. I have already sent in an application for the Giddings Word Wrangler, for example – an event which won’t happen until September. I have already gotten a communication from the organizers of the New Braunfels Weinachstmarkt – something that won’t happen until November, and this year, will happen without me. They have decided to drop the Texas Author Hall and convert the spaces in the corridor of the Civic Center (previously available for a reasonable sum to writers and publishers) to regular vendor booths. Which cost several times what we are prepared to shell out, even for a three-day-long event – so, that’s another weekend to fill, in the Christmas shopping season.

There is word through the Texas Association of Authors, of a street festival/market in Comfort, in October or so, which might prove interesting to pursue. There is twice-yearly market in Bulverde, which has always been good to us – and at a reasonable table fee, which is made even better for the two of us being able to split it: my books, the Daughter Unit’s origami art. The Bulverde C of C, though – has had to find another site for their market, as the strip-mall parking lot formerly used now has too many popular businesses along the fringe … so they have cancelled the Spring market, and hope to go all out in the Fall, in a new location. The Author Corral in Goliad has always been good for me – save that one year when the temperatures dropped into the low Twenties with strong winds pushing the temperatures even lower. Yes – that was particularly horrible, for everyone, but as there is no charge for the Author Corral, all we were out was time and gas.

Last year we were contemplating Dickens on Main in Boerne; an evening event and rather pricy as these things go, but the few regular monthly markets we ventured in Boerne did not pan out as well as expected, and we were too late to get a place at the Johnson City Courthouse lightening. Johnson City only charged a small fee – but we had to stay two nights at an RV park, rather than risk an hour drive late at night, what with drunks and suicidal deer on the roads. When you have to factor in hotels and meals, there is a whole ‘nother dimension to the gypsy markets. And why haven’t we done more San Antonio markets, pray tell? Why are we put to the effort of driving miles and miles? Honestly, I’d love to do an event that’s only ten minutes away, but most of the big San Antonio Christmas events charge vendors way too much for a table. Even something juried and focusing on art by the creators of it, like Gruene charge a bomb for participation, which is nice for those artists asking substantial sums for their original work – but not so remunerative for my daughters’ work, which is usually two figures or less. So that’s how the situation stands; I am looking to do more events like the Texas State Historical Association, and my daughter to those juried art fairs which don’t ask much for their tables or booth space. More about events that we will be participating in, as the schedule firms up.

19. April 2018 · Comments Off on 5-Year Plan: The First Project · Categories: Domestic

While waiting to be put into the roofing/construction company’s schedule for the ‘catio’ and the new roof – which likely won’t happen until mid or late May at earliest, I have gone ahead and started work on the small bathroom renovation. The Daughter Unit was expecting this to be done while she was in California. I was also expecting to have Roman the Handy Guy start on the ‘catio’ before she even left, but he was in two minds about the project; an entirely roofed and screened-in porch was a bit more of a project that he wanted to tackle single-handed. So – I handed off the catio-porch element onto the professionals and asked him to tackle the small bathroom renovation. This is something more in his wheelhouse anyway.

The small bathroom project is a relatively simple one; rip out the vanity/sink and the toilet, scrape that nasty popcorn texture off the ceiling, tile the floor and the wall behind where the new sink will go, repaint the whole room, and install a set of built-in shelves and a new wall light fixture. The whole room is about 5 by 9, a third of that taken up by the bathtub across one end anyway. No big structural changes, no changes to the water or sewer lines, nothing to the electrical beyond replacing switch plates to match the new color scheme. Which will be white and a sort of grey-lavender-pinkish, to match a little vintage porcelain dresser set that the Daughter Unit picked up somewhere or other and wanted to use as the keynote design element. We plan to reuse the faucet set – since it was the one that I bought to replace the original construction-grade faucet about a decade ago, when I did my first redecorating pass through my little patch of suburban paradise.

So, yesterday we were at the local big-box home renovation store, picking up the replacement toilet and pedestal sink that I had ordered last week – both items packed in big boxes, which is why I had arranged with Roman and his pickup truck, rather than try and stuff them in the back of the Montero myself. While there, I bought the other material for the project; paint, floor and backsplash tile, the grout mix, lengths of baseboard stock, and lumber for a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves which will replace the storage space lost when the bathroom vanity is taken out. The bathroom is so small, the vanity takes up entirely too much of what little space there is – hence, replaced with a pedestal sink. Roman has a busy schedule for the rest of this week, so his part of the renew-work falls into next week. My part falls into the interim: scrape up the last of the paint on the concrete floor and clean thoroughly, so that the tiles adhere properly, take down all the stuff attached to the walls, patch the holes, sand, and otherwise prep the room for heavy redecoration. And that was my week – other than the trip to Houston, which I will write up anon.

(The historic WWI Battle of Belleau Wood is a part of the background in A Half Dozen of Luna City … and for your edification – an essay on it, which will feature in the latest Luna City chronicle.)

The Deathly Woods

1918 was not the year that the 19th century died; died in all of its boundless optimisms and earnest faith in advancement of the human condition. For Europe – cynical, cultured, hyper-superior old Europe – that could be said to happened two years earlier, along the Somme, at Verdun, in the tangled hell of barbed wire, poisoned gas and toxic, clay-like mud, the burnt ruins of the centuries-old Louvain university and it’s priceless library, destroyed by German ‘frightfulness’ tactics in the heat of their first offensive. Perhaps the 19th century died as early as 1915. It depended on which front, of course, and the combatants involved, still standing on their feet, but wavering like punch-drunken, exhausted pugilists. One may readily theorize that only blood-drenched enmity kept them propped up, swinging futilely at each other, while the lists of casualties from this or that offensive filled page after page of newsprint; all in miniscule typeface, each single name – so small in print, yet a horrific, tragic loss for a family and community hundreds of miles from the Front.
All this was different for Americans, of course; sitting on the sidelines, gravely concerned, yet publicly dedicated to neutrality, and firmly at first of the conviction that Europe’s affairs were not much of Americas’ business. But softly, slowly, slowly, softly – American sympathies swung towards the Allies, even though there were enough first- and second-generation Americans among German and Irish immigrants to have swung American public opinion among non-Anglo or Francophile elements towards maintaining a continued neutrality. After all, it was a war far, far, away, and nothing much to do with us … at first. But events conspired; the brutality of the Huns in Belgium (documented by American newspapers), unrestricted submarine warfare which extended to American shipping (and, inevitably, American casualties), and finally, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram – and in the spring of 1917, President Wilson formally requested of Congress that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany be considered and voted upon. Said declaration was passed by an overwhelming margin, and by summer of that year, American troops were arriving in France – first in a trickle, then a flood.
The Belleau Wood was a forested tract thirty or so miles northeast of Paris; a hunting preserve in a stand of old-growth European forest, the refuge of wildlife, and for those whose favored recreation was hunting them. At the northern edge of the forest was two-story octagonal hunting lodge; built of stone, it was a place to shelter hunters for a night, during momentary bad weather, or a hearty meal, mid-hunt. Until the spring of 1918, it had been relatively untouched by a war which had turned acres and acres of French and Belgian farmland into muddy, barbed-wire entangled wastelands – many of which are still poisoned and unsafe, a hundred years after the end of that war. That forest tranquility ended when the expected German spring offensive slammed into the Allied lines – lines which now included the Americans – and punched through to the Marne River. The Germans had hoped to break through before the sufficient of the American Expeditionary Force arrived to make a difference in the wars’ outcome.
Late in May, German forces reached the Paris-Metz main road – and if they managed to break across the Marne and reach Paris, that one last throw of the dice would pay off for Germany; perhaps in victory, or perhaps in a negotiated and face-saving settlement with the equally exhausted and embittered French and British.

An experienced career soldier, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commanded the US. Expeditionary Force. He had rejected British and French demands that the Americans be parceled out piecemeal among Allied units, and essentially fight under the command of French and British officers. This would not do – likely Black Jack was polite yet forceful about it. (His nic came from him having commanded a troop of black cavalry early in his career as a young officer.) The AEF’s 3rd Division went into the line to counter the German advance at Chateau Thierry – the 3rd Division, which included a brigade of Marines, had initially been held in reserve – was brought forward in a hurry. The Marines were pretty much seen as a second-class by the Army brass, according to some accounts: good enough to do rear-guard and support duty, and only thrown into what was expected to be a quiet sector because every able-bodied American serviceman was needed, in the face of the German spring offensive. Checked by stiff resistance at Chateau Thierry, the German advance poured into the woods, where the 3rd Division had just arrived. Retreating French troops, exhausted from the fight to keep from being overrun, urged the Americans to do likewise, whereupon one of their officers is supposed to have riposted, “Retreat, Hell – we just got here!”
Of course, the newly-arrived American troops were keen as mustard; champing at the bit, as it were – especially the Marines, few of whom were of the career old breed. Many were recent volunteers. Up until that moment, the Marines had been a rather small, and somewhat specialized service; more inclined to security on board naval ships and at US embassies abroad, perhaps a small punitive expedition where American interests were concerned in South America and the Caribbean; a military constabulary, rather than hard-charging infantry. Still, it was a service that took pride in having been founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, recruiting at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, beating the official establishment of the US Army by more than a decade. (Yes, there was a Continental Army during the Revolution, but it was more like state militias seconded for service in the colonies’ united cause. The US Army wasn’t quote-unquote officially established until the 1780s. Upon this kind of minutia are friendly service rivalries built.)

Throughout the month of June 1918, the Marines fought with bitter tenacity through the deathly woods; sharpshooting at first, with deadly effect, and eventually to point-blank, then with bayonet, knives, and hand-to-hand. They kept the Germans from moving out of the wood, and then fought them back, yard by yard, trench by trench. The trees in the forest, the boulders at their feet were shattered by artillery and machine-gun fire. The stench from the bodies of the dead – too many to bury, under the existing conditions in the early summer heat – revolted the living to an unimaginable degree. And still – they went on, clawing back the wood to Allied control. More Marines were killed in that single month than had been killed in action since their founding in 1775. The Corps would not face another butcher’s bill to equal it until the taking of Tarawa, a quarter of a century later, and half the world away. It was a special kind of hell, this fight in a 200-acre French woodland, fought by relatively untried young troops, motivated by pride in service, by devotion to comrades, and by the leadership – which in many instances devolved onto NCOs, and even individual Marines, like Sergeant Dan Daly, a scrappy Irish-American career Marine (who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – twice, for actions in the Boxer Rebellion, and then again in Haiti). In legend he is said to have rallied the troops with a shout of “For Chrissake, men, come on; do you want to live forever?!” (Or similar phrasing. The war correspondent Floyd Gibbons later wrote that he had heard a similar expression shouted by a senior NCO, and the legend attached itself to Dan Daly.)
In the end, the Germans were driven from the woods, at a horrific cost; 10,000 casualties among the Marines, including nearly 2,000 dead. There is no definitive record of German dead, although there were around 1,600 Germans taken prisoner. But the Marines had clawed back the deathly woods, blunted the last-ditch German offensive … and in November of that year, Germany threw in the towel. By agreement, it all came to a temporary end on the eleventh hour, the eleventh day, the eleventh month. Such were the enmities and resulting bitterness that the armistice held only for the time that it took for a baby boy born in that year to grow up and serve in his turn. The shattered forest was christened anew after the battle; it has been named since then; now it is called the Wood of the Marine Brigade and an adjunct to a American war cemetery. The American 4th Brigade was recognized by the French government by the award of a military honor, the Croix de Guerre. To this day, active-duty Marines serving in the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragere – an elaborate garnishment of looped and braided cords – on their left shoulder as part of their dress uniform, in honor of that unit’s service in the Deathly Wood, a hundred years ago. And to this day, successfully completing Marine Corps basic training means completing the “Crucible” – a 54-hour marathon march on short rations and little sleep, featuring grueling marches, obstacle course and team-driven combat-problem-solving exercise – some of which was drawn on the experience of the fighting in the deathly woods, a hundred years ago.

(Yes, another excerpt of the next Luna City chronicle – which, with luck, will be available in April, 2018)

“Bree … you haven’t experimented with … the sex-magick, have you? You know – with a boyfriend of your age?” G-Nan asked, anxiously, and Bree Grant looked at her grandmother with eyes rounded in mild astonishment. What on earth could have brought that on? It was the first day of Bree’s return to the Age of Aquarius; suppertime in the Straw Castle Aquarius, a high-ceilinged tower of a place with a domed roof. Her parent’s car had vanished up the narrow road into the Age that very morning, trailing a smudge of dust and leaving Bree behind to spend spring and summer with her grandparents.

Bree, seventeen, intense and outgoing, replied in shocked surprise, “Ick, no! The male of our species,” Bree continued with a magisterial air, wondering why Grampy was stifling laughter. “Is simply not at their best at this stage of development. Really, G-Nan, all zits and obsessed with cars or football, or all gothy and emo. The very thought; it is to make me barf. And no savoir-faire at all. I have standards, you know,” and Bree directed a severe look at her grandfather who was still snickering. “I demand a degree of savoir-faire in a lover. Absolutely, at a minimum.”

“Bree Pumpkin – do you even know what savoir-faire means?” Grampy asked, over his plate of quinoa and feta-cheese salad – which Bree had made herself, rather than risk G-Nan’s signature dish of lentil surprise.

“Sure,” Bree serenely scarfed up a forkful of salad. “It’s from the French, actually – and is defined in the dictionary as ‘a polished sureness in social behavior.’ I really don’t think that is too much to ask for, Grampy – and what is so funny about it?”

“Nothing, Pumpkin,” Sefton still grinned, which Bree found quite baffling. But not as baffling as when Judy laid down her own fork and looked earnestly at her granddaughter.

“You are of the age to consider experimenting with sex-magick, you know. It is a powerful force in this world, and not one to be lightly considered.”

“I know, G-Nan,” Bree reassured her grandmother. “And trust me – I have thought about it all very carefully. There’s no real future in sleeping with every guy you meet. I mean, really. They forget you the next day, or never call … and really, I’d rather be the one they remember forever for not having gone to bed with them. When I do decide,” Bree helped herself to more okra pickles and bit into one of them with a satisfying crunch. “To practice the magick, it will be spectacular. Perfect. On satin sheets at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or under a Tahitian waterfall with the scent of frangipani hanging in the air … That kind of perfection takes time, and he will really, really have to be worthy.”

“What about that Walcott boy?” G-Nan ventured, having – as Bree assumed – totally missed the point. “He’s quite nice-looking, for his age … and the two of you are quite compatible, astrologically-speaking.”

“G-Nan!” Bree was horrified. “Robbie’s my best friend, practically – he’s just a kid. He can’t possibly do the magick correctly!”

“Might surprise you,” Sefton Grant murmured, and looked innocent when Bree glared at him. And Judy compounded the horror with a further suggestion.

“Bree-Pumpkin, if an older man – knowledgeable about working the sex-magick properly – is what you are looking for – consider Richard, at the Café. He is also compatible, astrologically … and very handsome. And an accomplished lover, by all that we have heard…”

“Oh, double-ick!” Bree, shocked out of all impulse to be polite to her elders, slammed down her fork, followed by her fist on the table … which being of sturdy make from native cedar cut on the property by Sefton, only trembled slightly. “G-Nan, that’s positively gross – he’s old enough to be Dad, practically – and besides, he’s my boss! I just may barf at the thought. If anything, he’s sweet on Kate Heisel. And I mean – ugh. I wouldn’t do another girl dirt by screwing her boyfriend. That’s just gross!”

“Calm down, dear – it was only a suggestion!” Judy protested, her eyes filling with tears. “I meant it in your best interests. You want your initiation into the magick as a woman to be perfect, with a considerate and skilled practitioner of the arts …”

“But not incestuous!” Bree retorted. “Jeez, G-Nan … at that rate, I might just as well throw myself at Chief Vaughn, or Coach _____… Can I just be allowed to sort out my own life?”

“We want the best for you, Pumpkin,” Judy wiped away a tear on her napkin, and Sefton came to her rescue.

“We know,” he said. “Leave it alone, Judikins – Bree-Pumpkin, your G-Nan means well. We’ll let the subject drop as of this moment, all right? Good. Now … Richard asked me yesterday morning, since you were to be back in Luna City – are you free to work a special event, come Spring Break? Not full-time,” Sefton added hurriedly. “Just to help prep for a big bash at Mills Farm early in March.”

“Sure, Grampy,” Bree sniffled. “Yeah, I can do it.” She glared at her grandmother. “But not another word about me and my love life, ‘kay? I’m almost eighteen, I’m practically through my first year of college, I can sort that shit out for myself, Oh-Kay?!”

“Agreed, Pumpkin,” Sefton agreed, keeping his relief private … although Judy was still sniffling, slightly. “So – you do your studies in the morning, work a coupla-times a week at the Café in the afternoon…”

“I’m a big girl now, Grampy,” Bree spared a serious glare at her grandmother. “I can handle it.”

“Good,” Sefton replied. “Now – who wants another sliver of that barbequed-marinated tofu?”

In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity. More »

22. January 2018 · Comments Off on The New Hire: Conclusion · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Uncategorized

(A new cook for the Cafe has auditioned, and met with approval – but he is a very odd kid, and has a certain problem. Like being homeless…)

“Understood,” Richard sighed and accepted his doom. “I approve hiring him – but I’m afraid that we will – er – come to clash in the kitchen now and again. I don’t look forward to it, but there it is.”

“Let me go and talk to him,” Allen Lee offered, and such was his fatherly authority that both Miss Letty and Doc Wyler nodded acquiescence. Richard followed Allen Lee into the kitchen, where Luc glanced up from scraping down the grill station.

“That was a magnificent meal!” Allen Lee exclaimed in hearty delight. “And they tell me that you’re hired on account of it. But seriously, there’s some things you gotta know – and stick to, if you wanna stay in this place long enough for me to come back around and feature y’all on a repeat of my people for a new foodie throw-down.”

“Sure,” Luc was still looking down at the surface of the grill. “So, they like it, uh?”

“They sure did, kid,” Allen Lee reassured him, hearty and enthusiastic, with an ear-to-ear smile. “You got the job – yours, if you want to take it. But understand that Ricardo is the ultimate boss in the kitchen. And you gotta remember that he’s been around the track a good few times, understand that he’s got the final say, cooking-wise. See – he trained at this school in Paris …” As Richard listened, Allen Lee expounded on Richard’s training, career, experience in the field at a fulsome and almost embarrassing length, not omitting the embarrassing bits, although putting the best construction possible on them – a consideration for which Richard was grateful, since it appeared that Luc had never heard of him and his career as a celebrity chef, although he gave every evidence of being impressed by tale that Allen Lee spun. He did wish that Allen Lee had left out the embarrassing bits about the Carême meltdown and aftermath …  Finally, Allen Lee wound up the final threads of his narrative and tucked in the extraneous ends, concluding, “So – ya see, Luc – you’re solid in the kitchen, and you have the basic skills. Ricardo is OK with taking you on. But you gotta be mature about this, realize that he has a world of stuff that he can teach you, things that you don’t know about, until he starts teaching you … and teaching – he’s done that! He’s doing it even now, with teaching kids to cook with his internet series. Learn from him about the fancy French cooking stuff you didn’t know, working for – was it Emerald? And then for Arbys? – You got the skills, kid – but don’t let that go to your head. Richard …” and here Allen Lee paused – perhaps to lend extra drama to his final peroration. “Take the job. Don’t think that you know it all, Luc. You don’t – but this guy can teach you. Mebbe you still won’t know it all – but I guaran-damn-tee – you’ll know a lot more. Be a good sport and learn what he can teach you.”

“Sure,” Luc wiped his hands on the towel at his waist. For about the first time he looked squarely at whom he was speaking to. “Thanks. For the chance, guys. I won’t ever let you down, Chef. Or you either, Allen Lee.”

“I’ll take that as a promise,” Richard accepted with the minimum required grace, as Allan Lee beamed approval. “So will I, kid – and I’ll tell you know, I expect great things from you – like, I come back in a season or two, and see you on my show!”

Both Richard and Luc winced slightly, at the thought of that, but Luc straightened his narrow shoulders and replied. “Sure thing.” He sounded a bit dubious – no, Luc wasn’t made for dealing with the public the easy, comfortable way that Allen Lee did, and which Richard had faked for so long. Now Richard said,

“Come on and tell Miss Letty and Doc Wyler that you’re on … and I’m sure that Jess has some paperwork to finish, now that you’re accepted.”

“Sure, Chef,” Luc followed them out to the front, and when Richard nudged him towards the empty chair at the stammtisch, he sat down in it – with some definite signs of unease. Miss Letty broke the ice, by saying with as much fulsome enthusiasm that a starchy, prim lady of certain years was able to bring to bear, “You will be relieved to hear, Lucas – that we were all very pleased with your audition menu, and that the decision to offer you employment was unanimous. I do believe that the selection of regular diners at the Café were enthusiastically in agreement in this. You will have fans, even before you begin your first workday in the Café.”

“I’m done,” Doc Wyler announced, scraping his chair back. “Places to go, things to do. Welcome to the Café, son – hope that you choose to remain long. Those grilled sandwiches were prime, by the way. Now I won’t have to drive all the way to the city for their like. Give your particulars to Mrs. Vaughn – your current address and all, and she can process the background check…”

“Already done,” Joe Vaughn observed, looking up from his cellphone. “No wants or warrants – only a citation for disorderly conduct at some dive in San Antonio.”

“That was … it was nothing,” Luc shrugged, as if it were nothing. But he added, in flat tones, as if it were expected. “I don’t have an address.”

“You don’t?” Doc Wyler looked as baffled as someone might, who lived on the largest ranch acreage in Karnes County since birth nearly a century ago, in a house that his grandfather had built.

“He don’t,” Sefton spoke, apologetically, his mouth full of pomme frites. “All his stuff is in the back of my van. His roommate in Karnesville kicked him out this morning. We were gonna let him stay at the Age, but that Judikins has a major problem with …”

“The m – the non-veganity?” Richard ventured, and Sefton shook his head.

“No, the drum-practice. It upsets the chickens … and ya know,” Sefton regarded them all in a manner which begged sympathy. “If the chickens and all are upset … My Lady is upset.”

“Can’t have that,” Doc Wyler looked with – what might be interpreted as a pleading look towards the table, and Joe Vaughn murmured, “Your Lady is your Goddess … I know. If Mama ain’t happy, then no one is happy.”

“What about the old apartment upstairs in the Mercantile?” Miss Letty looked to have had the only sensible reaction. “If that would suit, I can make it available. I own the building, you know. No one has lived in the apartment for years. My grandfather, Arthur Wells McAllister had his business office there, and my brother used it for a while, as well.”

“At the Mercantile?” Richard was boggled. “Well, it would be handy to work, I suppose. I never knew there was any such thing in the Mercantile.” This was the narrow red-brick building next to the Café on the opposite side from Stein’s Wild West Roundup, towering two stories and a commanding cornice high over the single story and a half of the Café, with the name “Mercantile Building” outlined in the façade in contrasting and permanent white-glazed brick. The ground floor was an ice-cream parlor, in the early years of Luna City, noted for having been the establishment from which Don Antonio Gonzales emerged on a certain summer day in 1919. Upon encountering his mortal enemy, one Eusebio Garcia Maldonado on the sidewalk before the Café, increasingly heated words and then gunshots were exchanged in the last recorded public duel in Luna City. (The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-T sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square, all struck by wild shots from the participants’ weapons.) The Mercantile Building currently housed a small and rather shabby little shop featuring the work of local crafters and artisans. It was open erratic hours, mostly on weekends. Richard had never given it much thought, save when curious weekend excursionists wandered into the Café, asking when the place would be open.

Miss Letty was explaining to Luc, and to a rather relieved Sefton, “… it’s a terribly spartan little place, I’m afraid. Lucas – that means that there are no comforts in it. After the Spartans of ancient Greece, who preferred to live simply. No one has lived in it for years, as I cannot afford to renovate, and probably couldn’t get back sufficient in rent to cover the costs, anyway. But the view of the square from the front windows is quite pleasant, and there is a relatively new window unit … Sarah and some of her friends were holding needle-work classes in the front room, where the light is good. I suppose you would want to see it, first.” She fished in her generous handbag, found a ring of keys and detached on from it. “Come along, young man – and see if it will suit. I’m afraid it will be rather dusty, and of course the furniture is … minimal. But you would have it to yourself, and of course, be convenient to the Café…”

“I don’t mind,” Luc replied. He had not much of an emotion about this, so Richard presumed that he truly didn’t mind. “No roomies or neighbors to get riled up about the drums? Let me see the place.”

“She’s ‘Miss Letty’ to you,” Jess hissed, in an undertone, and then added in a more normal voice. “I’ll finish up the paperwork once you’ve had a chance to look over your new quarters,” She tucked away the folder, and picked up Little Joe, who in the interval of his mother having a bite to eat, had become quite restless over her attention paid to anything but him. “I’ll wait, Miss Letty … Richard, do you want to go with them?” Richard really didn’t want to do this, thinking it was none of his business, but as Miss Letty, Sefton and Luc went towards the door, Jess hissed in the same undertone, “Go with her – those stairs are murder. And he will be your employee, anyway. A good commander always looks after the troops and their living conditions.”

“Right,” Richard obeyed, as Miss Letty with her keys led the three of them out the front door of the Café, and to a narrow and undistinguished door sandwiched between the Mercantile Building, and the storefront on the far side of it. The door to the space in the Mercantile, over that hapless little craft shop? Guess that it must be, Richard thought. Miss Letty fumbled with the key, in the lock of that door, which opened into a small space, into which a staircase mounted up like an arrow upwards into the dimness beyond. There was a clumsy, old-fashioned light switch just inside the doorway. Miss Letty flipped it, and two lights came on – bare bulbs hanging on lengths of flex, one at the bottom and one at the top.

“I think that you will have sufficient space for your motor scooter to park in shelter at the bottom of the stairs,” Miss Letty observed. “Such a darling little machine – they used them in Italy, in the old movies! I have always wanted to ride on one, but never had the opportunity. I am afraid that the stairs are so steep! It was the way of it, in Grandfather Arthur’s day, you know. So many families chose to live over their shops, or at least keep offices there …” She began to climb up the steep, darkened staircase, in painful, one-by-one steps. Mindful of his instructions from Jess, Richard had no compunction about following her next, even in elbowing ahead of Sefton. If the old darling missed a step, and somehow contrived to fall backwards … Miss Letty was the oldest resident of Luna City, the living repository of history and legend. Her life should be preserved at whatever risk.

On the landing at the top of the stairs, Miss Letty took out her keys again, and unlocked the substantial panel door, admitting them all into a generous but empty room, high ceilinged, and well-lit by two tall windows overlooking Town Square. Although the room was paneled with rather fine – if dingy carved paneling, the floor was covered with the utilitarian greenish speckled linoleum favored for public buildings anticipating rather a lot of wear and tear, and the windows were filled with equally utilitarian Venetian blinds expecting the same hard-use, hanging at half-mast. A couple of folding tables and a stack of metal folding chairs leaned against the farther wall. It was altogether a cheerless and desolate prospect as far as a living space went, but Luc regarded it with approval.

“Rehearsal space! What else is there?”

“Not very much, I’m afraid,” Miss Letty replied, “Through here is the bathroom, kitchenette, and bedroom.” She led them to a door in the wall opposite the windows; a short hallway lay beyond with three more doors; the first led to a miniscule bathroom, into which a depressingly modern sink, toilet and shower stall had been wedged, likely with the aid of a crowbar. The door beyond that opened into a slightly larger room, with a single window in it, overlooking the lumpy graveled area which lay behind the Café. It had been fitted with some cheap kitchen cabinets under a Formica countertop, cabinets which had never had any better days of which to boast. A couple of dead flies lay in the sink, the porcelain lightly stained by lime from an intermittently dripping tap. There was a space where a stove had possibly once been, and another filled with a refrigerator, of a mid-century design with rounded corners and a dashing chrome handle shaped like a car door handle of the same vintage.

“The icebox works,” Miss Letty said, opening the refrigerator door to show that yes, there was a light on inside, and an opened box of baking soda. “I can’t recall what happened with the stove, although it may be that there never was one. My brother used this as an office, when he was writing his book about the history of Luna City. He was the last person to use this place, regularly.”

The final door stood half-open, to a room with another window; this one contained a single bedstead with a dusty mattress on it and nothing much else.

“What do you think, Luc?” Sefton sounded hearty, enthusiastic. “A crash pad of your own, and a job right next door, too! Might be your lucky day, after all, buddy!”

“Yeah.” For all that, Luc didn’t sound all that enthused, and Richard didn’t blame him in the least. “I don’t mind about the stove – I got a microwave of my own, so no biggie. So – how much is the rent?”

“I’ll work out something with Jess,” Miss Letty replied, sounding as magisterial as ever. “Something fair to us all, considering that this place is relatively useless to me, and offers no home comforts worth mentioning to you. A mere token of fifteen a week deducted from the salary that the Café will pay, I think – just consider that quarters are part of your salary.”

“Aw, hey – it’s fine, Miss Letty. A place of my own, even if it’s a dump – oh, no, didn’t mean that,” Luc added hastily, after intercepting a warning look from both Sefton and Richard – and mirabile dictu – taking it to heart after a moment of thought, in which Richard thought that he could hear the mental gears creaking and grinding. “I’ll take it. It’s fine. ‘Specially to practice the drums. Call it my address for now, Chef.”

“Good,” Richard said. “You know that I’ll know where to find you, when you oversleep!” while Sefton grinned. “Luc, man – don’t worry about no other stuff in the place, ‘kay? When our old place burned, people were real generous to us. We gotta whole trailer full of stuff that they gave us, to replace the household things that burned, stuff that we really don’t need. We’ll bring up your stuff from the van, and then I’ll make a run out to the Age, and bring you anything else you might need from our stores … hey, no problem, Luc. You know how nice it will be, not to have to drive all the way to Karnesville for a decent burger. But like I said – ixnay on the burger-kay when you talk to My Lady. Got it?”

“Sure.”

Richard was fairly certain that Luc did not quite comprehend – something about the expression in his face. No; the lights were on, but the person at home was hiding in a back room, hoping that the one ringing the doorbell would soon give up and go away. For himself, Richard left Sefton and Luc to make a closer survey of the apartment, and accompanied Miss Letty on that perilous journey down the narrow staircase – trip and fall on that, you’d be well into the grass of Town Square before you stopped bouncing.

“Lucas approves of the old apartment,” Miss Letty announced to Jess upon their return to the Café. Joe had already gone back to work, and Allen Lee was swapping yarns with Harry Vaughn about old times in Banff at the Castle Mountain Hotel, out at the sidewalk table, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine slanting across the Square in bars of blessed golden light. Lamentably, every scrap of Luc’s tasting menu was gone, save a dusting of crumbs and seasonings on the serving platters.  “So that will be his home address for the time being. Poor boy; I’m afraid he has had a very difficult life. There are these odd children, you know; often quite intelligent, but absolutely no grasp of the social graces, and what it takes to get on with their peers.” Miss Letty turned her regard towards Richard. “I’m afraid it will fall to you, Richard – to make allowances for this, as you work together.”

Richard sighed. “My dear Miss Letty, I have worked with such numpties in the kitchen that you would not believe – and both they and I survived. Well, just barely…”

Miss Letty frowned, very slightly. Too late, Richard recalled that Miss Letty had an excellent command of English slang, based on her youthful service in the European theater. “Lucas is not an idiot, Richard – just … odd. But very skilled at what he does. I trust that you will take his personal idiosyncrasies into account. I must say that we – that Stephen and I were pleased beyond belief with his cooking audition. The boy has definite talent. If his peculiarities can be managed skillfully, I dare to venture that he will be a credit and a benefit to the Café.”

“I’m certain that he will, Miss Letty,” Jess came to his rescue, as she settled her son into his carrier. “So – when should we announce regular supper service?”

“I suggest in time for Valentine’s Day,” Richard thumbed through his mental calendar. “We can do a couple of weekends, unannounced, just to work out the kinks…”

He ignored Jess’s snort of smothered laughter, too late remembering that crude slang went both ways.

“Very good,” Miss Letty gathered up her own notes. “Good night, then, Richard.”

“Do you need a lift home, Miss Letty?” Jess ventured. “I wasn’t going that way, but …”

“No – a lady always departs with the gentleman who brought her,” Miss Letty replied with a wintery smile. So that was why Harry Vaughn still waited outside the Café. “It’s a treat on a mild day, to travel in an open car, with the wind in your hair.”

“All right, then,” Richard supposed that his day was now done, some hours after he was accustomed to ending them. But this had been a special day, although he was still unsure about why this should be so. Another chapter in the doings of the Café, and of his involvement in the doings of Luna City, a place which had now set bonds – Richard refused to think of them as tentacles – so tightly now around him, that he feared that he would never be able to shrug them off and leave, even if he really wanted to do so. Kate Heisel, Ozymandius-King-of-Kings, the nurturing of the clients at the Café, for the schoolchildren which he had taken on the mission of teaching about proper food, the friendship of Joe and Jess, of Berto and Araceli and Pat, and all the others, to include the uncouth Grants … and now the care of a fellow with no social skills whatever?

He wandered into the kitchen, where Araceli had already efficiently cleaned up after the unexpected late afternoon spasm of cooking.

“Hey, Chef – I think we’re done for the day. I guess the new guy is hired. Can we all close up and go home?”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Richard replied, whereupon Araceli favored him with a brilliant smile.

“He’ll be a good addition,” she assured Richard, with a relatively straight face. “Yeah – he’s weird, but, hey – he knew what he was doing, and wasn’t half as obnoxious as some of the other guys that Miss Letty and Doc hired. Believe me – I’ve seen them all, and outlasted them all – does that make me an expert?”

“It does,” Richard acknowledged with weary acquiescence. “So – tomorrow morning, after the breakfast rush – we all sit down and have a talk about where we are going with this thing. I’ve got approval to take on Beatriz for the front of the house, and another waitress of your recommendation. In a couple of weeks, as soon as we work it all out – we’ll be doing regular dinner service. Neither one of us can work seven days a week, and eighteen hours a day – so, we need to work out what we can do and the proper lines of authority.”

“On it, Chef,” Araceli replied, smartly.

And Richard had no doubt that she had.

What a waste of good managerial authority, in a dinky, small-town café, he thought, as he locked up for the day. In any first-rate place, Araceli would have been commanding a princely salary.

But then – so would he.

He got out his bicycle from where it had been leaning against the wall at the back of the Café, whistled for Ozzie – who appeared from the Stein’s garden, hopping easily up onto the basket on the back of it, nobly taking no notice of the bucket of kitchen scraps dedicated to the Grant’s chickens.

When he came around the end of the block, though – it was to see Luc’s Vespa go by, at a decorous pace, around the margins of Town Square, with Miss Letty, sitting demurely side-saddle on the back, with one arm around Luc’s waist, the other holding onto her hat.

Yes, that was Luna City – a world apart and all of itself. Richard waved to Miss Letty, and pedaled out on the road that led home. Home, in Luna City. It had a nice sound to it.

As a matter of fact, the pantry closet is for one, not lamentable. It’s about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth, and my daughter kindly saw to sorting out several weeks ago while I was nurturing what I hope was a light case of the current flu. Yes, we have a decades-worth supply of bottled BBQ sauces and condiments, and an equally substantial collection of pastas and dried beans, all now neatly arranged on the shelves, not that pictures of the results would get  hundreds or thousands of likes on Instagram from what seems to be a sub-culture of women obsessed with neat pantries full of things in matching designer containers.

Look, I go for function – if I can find what I’m looking for in my pantry without thirty feet of rope, and one of those safety helmets with a miner’s light attached – it’s good. And such is now the case, although I do wonder what on earth I was were thinking of, when we ended up with two bottles of Fisher and Weiser Roasted Blueberry Chipotle sauce. I guess we thought it would be as good as the raspberry version … but seriously, dark blue sauce?

It was the freezer which I kept delaying doing a good clean-out, until this week.  It was packed, every shelf with … stuff. Those disapproving articles published or posted here and there, chiding Americans for wasting however many pounds it is of edible food that we are currently wasting? I just threw out my share this week. This is really the only aspect of housekeeping where I have always fallen short; raw kitchen scraps like potato and carrot peelings go to the chickens, used tea leaves, eggshells, and scraps like onion peelings unsuitable for the chickens go into the compost bin … but the freezer is where leftovers of cooked foods in Rubbermaid containers go until they are ready to be thrown out – freezer-burned, covered with frost, dried out or just plain unidentifiable. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Good thing it has been bitterly cold this week, so the unidentified frozen blocks of … whatever … did hot have a chance to ripen into a substance which would gag a maggot at fifteen paces while waiting for the CPS trash collection truck had a chance to come and carry them away.

So – herewith my belated resolution for the new year; to make a dedicated effort to freeze leftovers, and on the following day to vacuum-seal, label, and date them. The vacuum-sealer is a great invention, BTW – essentially, what this does is to transform leftovers or extra portions of things into a home-made ‘boil in a bag’ entrée; fantastic for things like soups and sauces. Other things, like enchiladas and mac-n-cheese, I can put into a plastic bag, freeze to shape in the casserole dish that they will eventually be cooked in, and vacuum-sealed after they are hard-frozen. Next week – if still cold; the garage deep-freeze, of which nothing much will need to be thrown out, as most of it is vacuum-sealed already.  And that was my week, cleaning out the house freezer because it was too freaking cold outside. What about yours?

13. January 2018 · Comments Off on A New Employee at the Cafe! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(From the next Luna City installation, now under construction, with an expanded cast of characters, a new challenge for Richard … plus the ongoing mystery of the unidentified skeleton found during construction of the expanded Mills Farm resort — I bring you another snippet of the plot …)

The New Hire

“Now that Jess is back to work, we can consider moving ahead with your new hires for the Café,” Doc Wyler remarked, one Tuesday morning, as a gust of cold wind stirred errant dead oak leaves across the sidewalk, from where they had escaped from the trees in Town Square. Across the table, Jess nodded with her mouth full of a bite of warm cinnamon roll. At her feet, Little Joe – fast asleep in his carrier with a faint scowl on his infant features – appeared to have no objections worth making.
“I didn’t think you’d be back at work so soon,” Richard said to her – it was in his mind that Jess would have wanted to take slightly longer of a break, tending to the first new sprout on the Abernathy-Vaughn family tree. “What with a new baby and all…”
“After I got over the exhaustion, I was bored to tears with staying home all day, every day,” Jess replied. “There’s plenty of work that I can do without going very far, and Little Joe is a good baby … aren’t you, sugar?” she added with a fatuous expression as she glanced down at her sleeping offspring.
“I should think he would be better off, sleeping at home in his crib,” Doc Wyler grumbled. “Can’t be doing him very much good, you gadding about in this weather, and Jess sighed. Her eyes met Richards’ in a mutual understanding; Doc was of that generation where good mothers stayed at home with a new baby, usually until the little sprout toddled off to school.
“I could take him home this instant,” Jess answered, “And sneak him into bed … and he would be awake and howling in five minutes. Honestly, he sleeps best in the car, or in a noisy office.”
“Singular,” Richard murmured, while Doc Wyler riffled through the stack of receipts in the folder which Jess had put before them. Finally, he looked at Richard over his reading glasses and said, “Three new staff for the café; that was what we agreed on?”
“Full-time, yes,” Richard replied. “And a part-time cook, on Saturday and Sunday, for breakfast and lunch service.”
“That would be Robbie Walcott?” Jess put in, and Richard nodded.
“He came along very well, over the summer. I was quite pleased with both of them, by the way. And he wants to go on working on weekends. Why his parents approve of this I cannot imagine – don’t they know anything about the kind of people who work in food service?” Richard added, plaintively, and Jess giggled.
“Well, between you, ‘Celi, and Allen Lee, I think Robbie is off to a good start when it comes to jobs. At least, Sook and Clovis are OK with him having a job in the first place.”
“Builds character,” Doc Wyler grunted. “My first job when I was his age was working at Bodie’s, in the feed mill. Anyway, what are your ideas about new employees? Do you have someone in mind, or do we need put an ad in the Bee, or the Beacon?”
“Beatriz Gonzales,” Richard answered. “For the front of the house, full time. She’s worked off and on at the Café, and finished school in the spring. Araceli gave her full marks, and she has my approval. Now … if we are to open for regular supper service on Fridays and weekends, I’d like to hire another cook, besides another full-time waitress. Sefton Grant knows of a chap working at a place in Karnesville desirous of improving his situation. Sefton says he’s a pretty fair cook, worked food-service at a couple of oil-field cafeterias. Currently working the grill at Sefton’s favorite Arby’s … which is hardly top-drawer, in my opinion,” Richard shrugged. “But Sefton says that this chap’s command of the off-menu specialties is without peer and above reproach. I asked to interview him here tomorrow, about 2:00, see if he is someone I can work with.”
“Someone we can work with,” Doc Wyler nodded. “Don’t you forget, the investors in this enterprise expect to make a profit at the end of every year. That’s how business rolls. And I’ll want Miss Letty to have a look-see at Sefton’s friend. Best right-off-the-bat judge of character that I know. Tomorrow at 2 it is, then. Pass on to Sefton that his pal ought to wear his best interview suit – or the best that he has on hand.”
“I will do that,” Richard answered – and he did, that afternoon, when he pedaled slowly up the hill towards the Amazing Straw Castle Aquarius, serene in it’s grove of bare-leaved oak trees.
“Got your chickens their daily ration of raw gourmet leavings,” Richard said, as he handed the bucket of peelings and vegetable ends to Sefton – who because of the winter chill, was sensibly clad in jeans, boots, and a battered barn coat worn to the point where it was hard to see what color it had been originally. “And tell your job-seeking chum – what’s his name, by the way?”
“Lucas – Lucas Massie,” Sefton tilted his battered straw cowboy hat to a more rakish angle. “Nice kid, has the right instincts, but his social manner could use some work. What should I tell him?”
“Tomorrow, at the Café, 2:00 PM, in his best bib and tucker… er, his best interview attire. He’ll be meeting with the owners, and their financial advisor, as well as myself, so a word to the wise.”
“I’ll … er … pass on the word,” Sefton answered, and Richard – oblivious as he was to most unspoken social cues – did not notice that Sefton appeared rather shaken. “Ricardo, I ain’t certain that Lucas even has a best bib and whatever.”
Richard sighed, rather deeply. Yes, a dismaying number of kitchen geniuses that he had met over his time in the field were – if not actually barking mad, located somewhere along the functioning levels of the autism spectrum. “Then you should tell him that whatever he wears should be clean. And cover up the elemental naughty bits.”
“All right, then,” Sefton’s expression cleared. He took out his cellphone from the pocket of his jeans and was dialing in a number as Richard wheeled away. “OK … hey, it’s on, Lucas. Tomorrow at 2 … hey, come see Judikins and me afterwards, tell us how it went. But ix-nay on the Ark-ay stuff, ya know? Judikins is that dedicated … See ya tomorrow, pal. ‘Bye.”

11. January 2018 · Comments Off on From the Next Luna City Book · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(So – the skull and other relics found on the site of the new Mills Farm project just bring up more puzzles. Yes, I’m having fun tantalizing readers…”

Seven Buttons and a German Bayonet

Richard stared into the box; like the others present, with a mixture of horror and curiosity. No one quite wanted to touch the skull; jawless, with the open eye-holes still partly-clogged with the damp earth from which it had been dug. The bayonet with the German maker’s initials lay to one side, and Joe Vaughn was quietly bagging up the deformed metal bullet in a small zip-lock bag which Jess had produced from the suit-cased sized diaper bag. There were about half a dozen small corroded metal items knocking around in the bottom of the box, objects about the size of a 10p coin. Allen Lee Mayne reached over Richard’s shoulder and picked up one of them.
“A button,” Richard observed, and Allen Lee nodded, and gently buffed away the grime and corrosion with a paper napkin. “Looky here – it’s got some kinda raised design on it. Can you make it out?”
“Looks like military,” Joe ventured. “An eagle and an anchor, under an arch of stars. Navy, mebbe. You got another baggie, Jess?”
“Either our mystery man shopped at the Army Navy store, or he was a soldier,” Richard ventured, and Allen shook his head.
“Man, that’s an old Marine Corps button. Really old. Their buttons have had a globe on them now, along with the eagle and anchor. My old man was Marine in Vietnam, that’s how I know this sh*t.”
“Let me look, cher,” That was Lew Dubois, his expression yet more serious. “Ah, yes – what I thought; It is an old Marine overcoat button. My dear Grand-père Louis, for whom I am named – he served in the Marines. He fought in the great battle in the Belleau Wood, and he had his old overcoat, one with buttons just like this! He used to wear it on cold mornings, when he took me duck-hunting on the bayou. He was very old, and I was just a boy, and his namesake – a special treat for me, to go hunting with my grandfather. That is why I recollect so clearly.”
“I don’t think that this is your grandfather,” Richard belatedly wished that he hadn’t spoken, for Joe, Lew, and Allen Lee all looked at him with severely condemning expressions. “Sorry – a bit of misplaced levity, chaps, for which I apologize. But the fact remains; this is a dead chap, of some vintage. Not, perchance, one of yours? That is – local to Luna City. You wouldn’t have misplaced one of your own, all these years ago?”
Both Araceli and Jess shook their heads, and Jess answered, “I’d have to double-check with Miss Letty, of course, but I am pretty certain that just about all the Luna City volunteers for WWI were for the Army.”
“Looks like whoever he was – he got his Purple Heart the hard way, and no mistake,” Joe looked down at the deformed and scarred skull, with an expression which Richard found hard to decipher. “Not from here, then. Drifted into here … wasn’t there some tale locally about a scar-faced drifter? I’m sure Kate wrote about it, coupla weeks ago. Weird-looking guy, used to haunt the place, back during the Depression?”
“The Scar-Faced Tramp,” Araceli replied, and the light of blooming comprehension shone on every face. “Katie interviewed Abuelita for that story! The Tramp frightened her into running home screaming – she was only five or six at the time,” Araceli added hastily, for no one present could imagine Abuelita Adeliza, the elderly absolute ruler of the sprawling Gonzales-Gonzalez, running screaming in terror from anything less than a fire-breathing tyrannosaurus rex. “Her mother scolded her when she got home. The scar-faced man was only a poor vagrant, living in a camp in the woods, who got by on doing odd jobs for people in town. I’ll call Katie – she’s be thrilled to know about this!”
“Must you?” Joe finished bagging the buttons, all seven of them. “Can you wait a day or so? Look, I don’t want to make a big media thing about this until we have some positive answers. Can you give me enough time to let me set up an investigation with the county sheriff’s office – and whoever they have available for an emergency dig – before unleashing the media hounds on us?”
“Katie isn’t a media hound!” Araceli was indignant. “She has better sense than that, and she is one of us: OK, second cousin by marriage – but she is one of us!”
“Indeed,” Richard agreed, with a small clearing of his throat. “Miss Heisel has been … well, remarkably restrained and discrete, with regard to my own rather fraught position with the national press. I would be inclined to trust her, as being sensitive to local concerns. She’s a good egg,” Richard finished, with a sense that he was being particularly lame. He strenuously ignored Araceli’s muttered footnote. “Yeah, she’d love to jump your bones, Chef – given any sort of encouragement,” as well as Allen Lee’s distinctly lewd chuckle of agreement.
“All right then,” Joe nodded, as he placed the two plastic bags in the cardboard box with the skull. “Lew … I’m sorry, this will put a crimp in your construction schedule. The work gotta be on hold until forensics can go over the area. Nothing I can do about a delay, but I promise, I’ll do what I can to instill a sense of urgency.”
“It is not a problem, cher,” Lew sounded extraordinarily mellow for a corporate executive whose’ multi-million-dollar project was now on the tipping-point of failure – or at least, an expensive delay – through being delayed by the inconvenient circumstance of a dead body found at the construction site. Even if the dead body was – by Richard’s estimate and his vague recall of Kate talking to him about her months-ago feature story – at least six or seven decades old. Now, Lew added, in philosophical tones, “There is no urgency for this poor fellow. It has been a long time. Still … we should know something, I t’ink. Of who he was, and of his passing. If he was a comrade of my dear Grand-père Louis … for the honor of that service a hundred years ago – I owe him that generous consideration. My time and interest are at your disposal with regard to this puzzle, Chief Vaughn.”
“Appreciated,” Joe nodded, bundling up the box under one arm, and collecting up the baby carrier with his other. “Hey – ‘Celi, make our order a take-out, can you? Jess is bushed, and I wanna get my family (and perhaps only Richard noted the special emphasis with which Joe said those two words) home and settled. ‘Kay, Babe? Gotta case to work,” he added to Jess, who actually did appear pretty pale, frazzled and exhausted.
“My time and interest, too.” That was Allen Lee, most unexpectedly. “My Daddy served at Khe Sanh. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Daddy would want this. Count me in.”
“Right, then,” Joe said. “I’ll put out the word.”

(To be continued…)